In the process of promoting his book, former Vice President Dick Cheney has said that he supports waterboarding of suspects, just as long as they are not American.
Really? It is exactly this kind of thinking that allows police officers to feel it is okay to torture a confession out of a suspect because he is a "bad guy". As a criminal defense lawyer from Chicago, I am, unfortunately, all too familiar with that viewpoint. Recently, one of the most brazen of the Chicago Police torturers, Jon Burge, went to prison. He went to prison, not for torture, but for lying about having committed torture in a set of under-oath interrogatories in the civil rights case filed by my exonerated client, Madison Hobley. It is my understanding that the federal government is continuing to investigate other Chicago Police officers who have also been coercing confessions out of suspects with force. I hope that something comes of that investigation.
What worries me, though, is the idea that torture is okay, that the bad guys -- suspected terrorists, or murderers or whomever else we despise -- simply cannot be accorded the same rights that those of us who are "good" get. So who defines good? Dick Cheney? I certainly hope not. He certainly isn't treated the way people who are poor and disenfranchised are treated -- when he shot his friend while quail hunting, he was never treated like a criminal suspect. No one would waterboard him.
Do we learn nothing from history at all? Once it become acceptable to cross the line in this way, the line starts to become blurred, and it becomes very difficult to stop wholesale torture of citizenry by its so-called protectors. Is it not this very kind of behavior that we condemn in Muammar Gaddafi?
Mr. Cheney joined in the White House's condemnation of the brutal treatment of Saddam Hussein's citizens by that regime, but said that when there "is no other way" to find out information, and the suspect is a terrorist, that torture, which is what waterboarding -- pouring water over a captive's head until he nearly drowns -- is.
The United States of America is held up to be a leader and an example of democracy. We should all condemn the partisan use of torture if we are to lead by example, as we wish to do. Mr. Cheney should recognize his hypocritical stance, but he will not. It is up to us to point it out.